Pouly looms large as Ronda battle peaks
BAGUIO CITY—With the race for supremacy reaching its crescendo here in the Cordilleras, the battle for the Ronda Pilipinas International 2014 title has been reduced to a dogfight between the finest Filipino riders and French mountain specialist Peter Pouly.
Mark Galedo of 7-Eleven Continental Cycling Team is looking to keep the red jersey, Ronda’s symbol of overall leadership, for two more days in the mountains before the 14-stage Tour winds up in Marikina on Feb. 16.
Breathing down Galedo’s neck is surprise contender Riemon Lapaza of Cycline Butuan Mindanao, who trails the 2012 Ronda champion by a slim one minute and 12 seconds going into Wednesday’s grueling 88.5-kilometer criterium along the undulating main avenues of the country’s summer capital.
After Monday’s torturous climb to this city from Dagupan, there has been a palpable sense of concern among the rest of the Ronda favorites over what they perceived to be the superior climbing ability of Pouly, a five-time French national mountain bike champion.
“He’s (Pouly) really strong and competes on a different level,” said Galedo, a two-time bikathon champion who was rewarded with a house and lot by cycling patron Bong Sual as a prize for his gold medal in the road race event of the Southeast Asian Games late last year in Burma (Myanmar). “From now on, we’ll mark him and watch out for his attacks.”
The biggest of those attacks came Monday in the final climb on Kennon Road, right after the monolithic Lion’s Head as Pouly got up from his saddle and pulled away from Galedo and the rest of the lead pack to solo it home to the Baguio Convention Center finish line.
Seizing the most punishing leg in local cycling’s grandest race pushed the 37-year-old climb specialist to third overall, 3:42 behind Galedo, after trailing by 5:40 in eighth spot overnight.
Pouly was quick to downplay his chances for the overall title and the P1-million purse that goes with it.
“How can I win the GC (general classification) if I don’t have a strong team?” said the Frenchman who rides for Infinite Singha Cycling Team.
“They (Filipino riders) will surely help each other to prevent me from getting the red shirt.
“Honestly, I’d be happy to finish third or fourth in the GC as long as I win the King of the Mountain,” added the Thailand-based rider as he checked out his bike during Tuesday’s rest day.
With another impressive performance in Thursday’s Stage 11—a difficult 95.8 km ascent from San Fernando, La Union, to Baguio’s super steep Green Valley Hotel via Marcos Highway, the highest point in this year’s race at about 1,600 meters—Pouly can seal the King of the Mountain title.
Pouly, who hails from Toulouse in southwestern France and honed his climbing skills in the French Alps and the Pyrenees, has compiled 51 points in the KOM race.
Rustom Lim of PLDT Maynilad has 34 points after placing second behind the Frenchman in Stage 9, with Galedo, who finished third in the leg, toting 33.
Marcelo Felipe of Road Bike Philippines moved up a notch at fourth overall, 4:54 behind Galedo; George Oconer of Philippine Navy Standard Insurance jumped to fifth and Santy Barnachea, the 2011 Ronda champion, slipped from fourth to sixth, both 5:55 back.
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